Dostoevsky, O’Connor, and the Supernatural

The closing passage of Flannery O’Connor’s story “A Temple of the Holy Ghost”:

Her mother let the conversation drop and the child’s round face was lost in thought. She turned it toward the window and looked out over a stretch of pasture land that rose and fell with a gathering greenness until it touched the dark woods. the sun was a huge red ball like an elevated Host drenched in blood and when it sank out of sight, it left a line in the sky like a red clay road hanging over the trees.

This is one of O’Connor’s most autobiographical stories, which depicts a young girl’s acceptance of her Catholic faith. O’Connor thought it was one of her most important stories, and expressed dismay that it didn’t get anthologized or talked about as much as some of her others.

In his massive four-part biography of O’Connor, Walker Percy, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton, titled The Life You Save May Be Your Own, Paul Elie interprets the passage as a reconciliation of the Protestant and Catholic ways to God, “but the image of the sun eucharistically looming over all, above and apart, suggests the pride the Catholic child is prone to, the deadliest sin of all.” Maybe he’s right, and he’s knows much more about Flannery O’Connor’s writing than I ever will, but when I read this passage, I was struck that, for the little girl in the story, the sun as a eucharistic Host indicates not pride but that the universe begins to take on a sacramental character.

I was actually reminded of this passage when reading Dostoevsky last week. To my mind, O’Connor’s vision is similar to Dostoevsky’s. To wit, both are sacramental in character. Part of the passage in Dostoevsky that I posted last week reads, “We have been granted a secret, mysterious sense of our living bond with the other world, with the higher heavenly world, and the roots of our thoughts and feelings are not here but in other worlds.” This comes through vividly in the Elder Zosima’s, and then Alyosha’s, acceptance of and intense love for the world itself.

In other words, for both O’Connor and Dostoevsky, love for the world is possible by virtue of its participation in God himself, which is why, in Dostoevsky’s case, Ivan, without this perspective, cannot accept the world, and in O’Connor’s case, why her characters’ lives are so violently disrupted when they resist the intrusion of grace, or the supernatural, in their lives.

Anyways, thoughts.

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1 comment so far

  1. Josh on

    Excellent post. “Temple” is one of my favorite O’Connor stories (along with “Greenleaf” and “Good Country People). I have always interpreted the conclusion in much the same manner as yourself: as a child coming into the peaceful acceptance of her faith. I’ve never really connected with The Brothers Karamazov, but now that you mention I see it.


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